Aspiring fashion publicist and fourth-year communication student Cassidy Kriezel woke up at 5 a.m. two days a week to arrive to her 8 a.m. call time at Marked PR last spring.
For five months, Kriezel would work until 4 p.m., then commuted for two hours in Los Angeles traffic to make it to her closing shift as a bartender at California Pizza Kitchen, not leaving work most nights until 1 a.m.
Kriezel, like many other aspiring professionals, worked night and day, on top of going to school.
One job is during the day as an unpaid intern, another is at night and on the weekends at a job that does pay.
As controversial as they have become, unpaid internships are still a booming trend among college students.
Some argue against unpaid internships, even though they provide students with the opportunity to receive industry knowledge.
Others say unpaid internships exploit free labor and favor students who come from upper class families who don’t have to work while attending college.
Regardless of whether unpaid internships are a springboard to a student’s first job in the industry or a waste of time, students must weigh the pros and cons carefully, since they will be handing out their time for free.
There are some advantages to working for free.
Most unpaid internships supply college credit in exchange for time.
For students to receive college credit, they must enroll in an internship class at their school, which many majors at Cal Poly Pomona, such as business administration, journalism, public relations, engineering, etc., offer.
By being enrolled in this class, liability is taken off the hands of the employer and given to the school if anything were to happen to the student on the job.
A second advantage is the opportunity to network. The saying “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is popular for a reason.
Interning gives students the opportunity to meet and work with professionals in their chosen field, which could lead to getting hired.
Interns also get real life experience in the field they are studying.
Kriezel said the most obvious con about unpaid internships is that interns are working for free, but all of the pros of unpaid internships are also pros of paid internships.
If interns could receive college credit, network and gain real-life industry experience, all while getting paid, why would they be OK with working for free?
Many students are hit with this dilemma, as dominant employers don’t offer paid internships, leaving college students with the only option of working for free.
“I think you should be paid or compensated in some ways at least, regardless of opportunity,” Kriezel said. “I feel like employers really take advantage of young students wanting to get experience. My employer made me do everything their paid associates did and more without being compensated. I wouldn’t even get reimbursed for the cost of parking.”
For several college students, unpaid internships aren’t a viable option because of the financial burden.
Students from low and middle economic classes are often juggling attending school full-time and working full or part-time to pay for their expenses.
This causes the internship system to become unintentionally skewed against students who come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.
David Manning, owner of A List Communications, an entertainment public relations firm in Los Angeles, whose staff is 80 percent unpaid interns, said he is sensitive to students who need to work.
“That is why our internships are part-time, requiring only 16 hours a week vs. a more full-time internship,” he said. “Those extra hours can be used for a paid work opportunity.”
Still, the majority of internships in engineering, business and communications remain unpaid.
Artha Motlagh, a business economics graduate from the University of California, Riverside said, “If I want to get a job at a stock brokerage firm I am required to do a six-month, full-time internship first that does not pay. As a 28-year-old with bills to pay, I don’t have the leisure of working for free for six months.”
Exploitation of students who are eager to learn and willing to work for free has been a large concern for many, including the leadership at CPP.
CPP’s department chair of communication, Professor Richard Kallan, said, “Most internships are illegal because they don’t follow the U.S. Department of Labor guidelines. Many companies hire interns as an alternative to hiring costly full-time employees. These companies are receiving an immediate advantage from the activities of the intern, which is not allowed.”
In the past, Cal Poly Pomona required all communication majors to complete an internship before graduation, but now, the internship requirement can be replaced by taking supplemental classes.
“We changed the internship requirement because it was delaying graduation,” Kallan said. “Many students were getting internships, but others were not and it was pushing back their graduation date. Another problem was that some students realized that after four years of studying communication that they didn’t want to work in the field, therefore an internship wouldn’t be useful for them.”
The Department of Labor released new guidelines at the start of 2018 for employers that want to hire unpaid interns.
The original set of guidelines included a six-part test that was created in an effort to determine who the primary beneficiary of the internship was.
If the student was the primary beneficiary, then it was approved for the internship to be unpaid. If the employer was the beneficiary, the internship would have to be paid.
Guidelines released this year focus on ensuring the student will be learning from this unpaid internship and that the internship provides significant education benefits.
A recent survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers showed that students who complete paid internships have a greater chance of landing a job after graduation compared to students who do unpaid internships.
The data collected showed that 63 percent of college graduates who completed a paid internship received a job offer after graduation, 37 percent who completed an unpaid internship received a job offer, and 35 percent of students who did not do an internship received a job offer.
“Research is conflicting,” Kallan said. “All in all, an internship is what you make of it, there is a lot of luck involved regarding success in every industry.”
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